Big, Strong and Fast, Mike Schad Quickly Had Rams’ Attention

Times Staff Writer

Michael Schad, offensive tackle, Queen’s University. 6-5, 290, 4.89 40. Incredible physical specimen, eye-catching speed and exceptional athletic ability. Diamond in the rough. Needs a great deal of work on his position technique but is most advanced player from Canadian college in years. Hasn’t faced top competition.

That’s the sort of thing National Football League draftniks were saying last spring about Mike Schad, the incredible hulk from Canada.

Dick Steinberg, the New England Patriots’ astute talent scout, said cautiously that Schad “doesn’t look like your typical green Canadian (football player).”

Others noted that anything else that big from the north woods had antlers, or was a blue ox named Babe. But this specimen also has two college degrees, can two-hand dunk a basketball, run the hurdles and handle a 50-caliber machine gun.


Any questions?

The Rams were so impressed that they spent a first-round draft choice on him and slipped him across the border early one morning, right under the noses of the Dieter Brock Fan Club. The NFL had never drafted a Canadian player that high.

Schad was no secret, though, in the NFL. His agent, Gil Scott, the Toronto businessman who also brought Brock south, said that NFL interest was nil until some Canadian Shriners exerted pressure to get him into the East-West game at Stanford last December.

He played so well in it--he gained the attention of Ram Coach John Robinson when he made a tackle inside the 20-yard line on a kickoff --that Schad rose to about a potential third-round choice when he took physical tests for the National Football Scouting combine at New Orleans, “and from there it just snowballed.”

There was suspicion that if the Rams hadn’t claimed Schad, the Raiders would have on the next turn.

Since the draft, although he still is unsigned, Schad has been working out with other young linemen at Rams Park. He may not be the reason why veteran Bill Bain asked for his release to seek an opportunity elsewhere, but Schad, coldly analytical, has even set his sights on starting tackles Irv Pankey and Jackie Slater. He plans to play this season.

“I know I’m gonna play,” Schad said. “Between Jackie Slater and Irv Pankey, that’s 40 games, including exhibition games. I’ll be surprised if they both play all the games.”

His only other serious rival is Mike Shiner, a 1985 free agent from Notre Dame.

“Mike Shiner has the jump on me right now, with a year’s experience,” Schad said. “But it’s just experience and technique. It’s coming fast.”

Schad hasn’t played against many people his own size--Canadian college football is probably on a level between the NCAA’s Divisions II and III--but he is not hampered by an inferiority complex.

Gord Smith, his coach at Moira Secondary (High) School in Belleville, Ontario, said by phone: “I’ve never met a more motivated athlete. This has been his goal for six years.”

Smith said that Schad first impressed him when he walked in the door. “He was 6-5, 240 when he was 16 and playing as a junior. Mike was always pretty quick for a big kid. He went to our provincial regional meet as a hurdler. As a high school basketball player he was intimidating as hell.

“I remember a basketball playoff when we were playing lethargically and I got on their case and told Mike to take the ball and take it to the hole. He took the ball to the foul line, took one step and jammed the ball and about took the rim off. The other team just stood and watched. It ended up about a 40-point spread after that.”

The Moira Trojans were undefeated in Schad’s last two seasons, winning the Central Ontario championship each year.

“Mike played mostly defense in high school,” Smith said. “I had him at middle linebacker. He had great pursuit ability.”

Smith even toyed with the idea of using Schad as a running back.

“We thought it would be interesting to have this great big guy running the ball, but we knew his future would probably be as a lineman.”

But if the Chicago Bears could use William Perry in the backfield in special situations, Schad would certainly fit. He even looks like an athlete. He may change the way people think about Canadian football players.

“I think maybe some people will take notice now,” Smith said. “When he was in his final year here the only thing that happened in the States was a couple of yawns. Nobody even came to see him play. It might show that Canadian kids can play.

“I think Mike realizes it will take at least a year to pick up the technique, because of lack of experience. The American kids have had a higher intensity coaching program than Canadian kids get. Some experienced guys might turn him around a few times, but he’s got the motivation and the physical tools.”

Bob Howes, his position coach at Queen’s, said: “He’s read about all the people down there in the NFL, and he’s geared himself to working beyond our league. If anybody can handle it, he can. I don’t know who’s gonna work harder.”

When Schad attended Queen’s in Kingston, Ontario, he had his own key to a local Nautilus gym, where he would put in about three hours a day, every day.

But it wasn’t easy getting to Queen’s in the first place. Canadian universities don’t give athletic scholarships and, academically, Queen’s rates with the Ivy League schools.

Smith said that Schad “was a very average student . . . had to struggle for everything he got. When people started to say, ‘I wonder if Mike can make it to a university?’ he got his nose into the books and made himself a student.”

Schad has one degree in geography and needs only to complete a thesis for another in exercise physiology.

He admits: “I never was an academic bright light, but I accomplished more than a lot of people.”

There is a methodology about Schad that may come from his roots. His parents grew up in Germany.

“I guess he got the right genes from everybody,” said his mother, Ursula, a clerk for an automotive supply firm. “I didn’t use vitamins, just the best out of both countries: a mixture of Canadian and German food.”

But it goes deeper than that. His father, Helmut, a machinist, is the son of a former Germany army captain who served--and survived--on the Eastern Front, while B-17s were bombing out his family back home in Frankfurt.

“It was just a residential area,” said Helmut, who was 11 when the war ended. “Maybe they made a mistake.”

Later, Helmut Schad was recruited, in a sense, by the French Foreign Legion.

“I went on a bike tour and never returned,” he said.

His regiment was lost in Vietnam while Helmut was in a field hospital with malaria. After touring Libya, Tunis and other wonderful places, he was discharged after five years’ service and moved to Canada, where he met Ursula, who had arrived by a different route.

She is from Halle, a city in East Germany about 60 miles southwest of Berlin. It had been captured by American troops in 1945. When partitioning took effect in 1948, her family fled.

“First the Americans came in, and then three years later they left us all alone to the Russians,” she said, laughing. “We got out before the wall went up. We each had a knapsack and pretended to go on holiday and just went over the border. It was dangerous, but not as dangerous as it was later.”

She arrived in Canada 10 years later, when she was 20.

“I come from a tough family,” Schad said. “I mean tough mentally.”

Schad has an older sister and a younger brother, Andreas, a linebacker at Carlton University in Ottawa.

“Michael was different from the others,” his father said. “He had his ideas and he followed them, even when he was little. He really worked hard for it.”

His mother said: “He’s the neglected middle child, he always says. I don’t think you could neglect him if you tried.”

Discipline was strict.

“My parents were very critical of me, expected a lot of me, in regard to academics, in regard to sports--my mother especially,” Schad said. “So I became critical of myself and, in a way, that’s made me a perfectionist.”

Said his mother: “It didn’t come easy for us, and we sure didn’t give it away to the children.”

Schad thrived on challenges. During high school, he served three years in the army reserve.

“I always liked military discipline,” he said. “I ended up being a qualified mortarman--81mm mortar. I was qualified on a 50-caliber machine gun. I got into that. That helped regiment my life style, getting done what had to get done.”

Schad claims to relate to Rambo-type characters.

“I love those guys,” he said. “I want to get in a movie with (Arnold) Schwarzenegger before I get out of here. The broadswords, Conan-type. I really eat that stuff up. It’s not the macho thing. It’s the pride that’s involved.

“I think it came out in high school. Sport is what made me able to express myself the best. I always had a mental thing within my peer group, a ‘You’re no better than I am’ type thing. I thought fighting was a stupid way to go about it.”

Schad found it wasn’t easy always being the biggest kid around.

“That’s hard,” he said after a recent workout with his new Ram peers. “Guys don’t want to play a pickup basketball game with you. I drifted away. It made me find new friends with the same interests. It’s funny. I can go have a beer with these guys and it feels like I’ve known them all my life. Same interests, same goals.

“A football player is a different person. It’s a lot different from a normal person outside the football world.

“I was never a bully, but I got into my share of fights. I’m not a guy to take anything off anybody, in everything I do. It’s gotten me into trouble a few times, but not deep trouble. I’ve never been put in jail.”

He’s never cleaned out a saloon?

“Well . . . I wouldn’t say that,” Schad said, laughing. “I can’t stand somebody 190 pounds challenging me . . . a guy that’s not even in my league. That really upsets me. If a guy gets on my case, I won’t put up with it.”

He said he usually tries to reason with an antagonist.

“Just put the fear of God into him . . . lift him off his feet, pin him up on the wall. You know if you hit the guy you’re gonna get in trouble.”

So he never has punched anyone out?

“I wouldn’t say that, either.”

Schad said that he is adjusting to the Southern California life style.

“I really like it down here,” he said. “The weather’s better. It’s a big city. But I’m from a conservative background, and out here it’s a lot more liberal.

“What really bums me out is I can’t get over how marital vows out here don’t mean nothin’. All the women out here are divorced and have a kid. I can’t get over how it’s fashionable to get divorced. I really can’t stand that attitude.

“I’m from a work-ethic background. I bought my first car out here. I was in the army reserve for three years and saved every penny of that to pay for school. I never bought a stereo, I never bought a car. I paid for the first three years of school on my own.

“I worked in the summer and played football . . . tried to get it all in. Weight training, football and work. I can’t stand a lot of the girls’ attitudes--'Let’s party and have fun.’ I mean, lie out in the sun all day? Don’t you have something to do to fulfill your life? I don’t measure my success by that.”

But Schad denies that he is one-dimensional.

“Hell, I’m the first guy to go out and have a beer with the boys,” he said. “I need that escape at times. But that’s not the end-all.”

He bought a conservative car: a $40,000 Cadillac.

“I went to a lot of dealerships. It was tough fitting into a car. I couldn’t fit into any of the Mercedes lines or BMW lines. The big Mercedes didn’t have enough head room, and with the console between the front seats, my legs are so big I didn’t fit. I didn’t want to buy a truck, so I ended up buying a Cadillac.”

He did consider a Porsche.

“But, you know, I still have to establish myself on the team,” he said. “I think a Cadillac is being level-headed.”

One of Schad’s ambitions was to bench-press 500 pounds. One day in the Rams’ weight room, he made it. He also squatted 700 pounds.

“I’m impressed,” Garrett Giemont, the Rams’ strength trainer, said with a trace of sarcasm. “But we’re also looking for balance. Technique, speed and other things will determine how good he is on the field, not just what he does in the weight room.”

Schad said he wasn’t trying to impress anyone.

“I just try to do the best I can do,” he said. “If I hold back in the weight room, I’ll hold back on the field. How strong you are in the weight room is how strong you are on the field, but you still have to be a good player to do it.

“Coming from Canada does place you at a disadvantage initially, I think, so you gotta be stronger and faster than your counterpart American players. You know: ‘He’s from Canada; he can’t play.’ I’m just the same as anybody else. I don’t sense any nationality difference among the players here. I’m just another player.

“Everybody’s gotta do something. (Whether) you’re an accountant, a movie star, a baseball player, be the best at what you do. If you’re a garbage man, be the best.”

And how will he know when he is the best?

“I’ll know when. It’s like when Coach (Hudson) Houck says now, ‘Hey, Irv, Jackie, come over here and show these guys how it’s done.’ Then you start going to the Pro Bowl. Stuff like that.”

Houck is the Rams’ offensive line coach. First-round draft choices are nothing new to him. He coached seven of them at USC: Don Mosebar, Roy Foster, Keith Van Horne, Brad Budde, Pat Howell, Marvin Powell and Bruce Matthews.

“I’m really happy to be with a coach like him because I think he’s gonna maximize my potential,” Schad said. “It’s all up to me now.”